(I'm not a musician.) I was taught as a child that I must not 'blow my own trumpet' as in talking about myself – especially not to say anything good about myself. I was also taught that much of what I could say about myself was nonsense and I needn't expect anyone to believe it. If I myself believed it, I must be insane. If not, I was obviously a liar. Telling my story, therefore, became a very confronting task. I am now in my late seventies, as I begin this blog, and it is only a preparation – things I write on the way to writing the memoir. Nevertheless, everything posted here is copyright and must not be reproduced without written permission from the author (usually me).

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

When Nana Died

Four was the pivotal year in my childhood. It must have been a week or so after my fourth birthday, in November 1943, that my Nana died. I know she died just a couple of months before my little brother was born, in January 1944, because my mother always lamented that fact. 

Dear Nana —

I was just four
when you went to Heaven.
How could you leave me 
so tightened down, 
so shrunk …
so cold my air,
so strange and fogged 
my home garden
in which I wandered
every step uncertain,
missing your held hand
your warm contralto laugh?

I still remember
the songs and tales
in that haven, your lap.
How did you change
to a white lump
in the hospital —
in the high bed
where I could not reach you
and you were so silent?
I hung my head,
gave silence back.

You were Florence,
daughter of Jane
the famous beauty.
My aunts remembered her.
To me, beauty was you —
old fat woman from India.
Your long hair
brushed out for bed 
unfurled like a princess’s
all down your back.
Then you rewound it,
plaited and coiled
as your crown.

I tried to findyour big hotel
on Puri beachfront,
your life before:
the life of the stories.
I travelled all that way —
the other side of the world —
old woman myself by then.
Nana, where were you?
Without your old photos 
from the family album
I couldn’t be sure.

Hotelier, hospital matron,
young mother, wronged lover —
these I knew not.
In the apple orchard
trailed by your dogs,
and the birds lilting,
I place you forever:
in Spreyton, Tasmania.
From the cottage doorway
you smile welcome
– dear Nana.

© Rosemary Nissen-Wade 2006

I loved my Nana more than anyone – and felt more surely loved by her than by anyone else. 

My mother was seven months pregnant with my little brother when Nana died, her grief at the loss of her mother, whom she adored, compounded because Nana hadn't lived long enough to meet her newest grandchild. 

It seems in memory that Mum was mostly in bed during those last weeks before Denis was born, alternately weeping and sleeping. My Dad tiptoed around, preoccupied. When I cried for my Nana being dead, he shushed me quickly, saying, 'You mustn't upset your mother,' and shooed me outside to play.

So I wandered slowly up and down our vast back lawn, not feeling playful. Anyway, my usual playmates (whom I now identify as nature spirits and deceased children) hovered at a respectful distance on this occasion. I was vaguely aware of them in the background, but I had other things on my mind. I needed to brood.

I looked at the ground as I walked, but gradually became conscious of the sky, sensing it as having a quality of aliveness, presence. That was the first time I felt what I describe as 'a white feeling' – having no words to label it more precisely – which has come to me a few more times over the decades since. It happens soon after someone very special to me dies. It is beautifully peaceful, while at the same time clear and aware, and is accompanied by the calm conviction – indeed, I would say knowledge – that the dead person has come to visit me, and is giving me a message. The message is never in words; it's an inner knowing. But I can translate it into words. It says Love, All is well, and Goodbye. 

Sometimes it happens before I know the person has died; then I get the news soon after. It was that way many years later when my friend Fran, who was going through a very troubled time, crashed her car in the early hours one morning and killed herself. An unconscious suicide, I've always thought. I came suddenly awake and sat straight up in bed, both alert and peaceful, my mind full of the idea of her but without any of the concern I'd had for her in the previous weeks. On the contrary, I felt a relaxed happiness. A few hours later came the phone call to say she had died just before the time I woke. That was shocking and distressing despite what I’d experienced, but later the experience was some comfort.

When, some years later again, my dear Aunty Katy went, we knew her death was close but not yet that it had happened, when that feeling came. I was married to Bill then, and Katy knew him well. They were fond of each other. He picked up the feeling too. In this case it was mixed with playfulness, as the curtains fluttered without a breeze, and we almost heard her laughing. Katy had motor-neurone disease late in her life, and hated the restrictions it forced on her. We could tell she was having so much fun as a spirit, with total freedom to move, no physical restrictions at all. Half an hour later, one of my cousins rang to say she'd gone. 

With my Nana, though, I knew she was dead as I walked that lawn, under a sunny sky with sweet white clouds that I didn't want to look at. I wasn't allowed to cry for her, and didn't (until over 40 years later, when another death occasioned so much weeping that it finally triggered that old grief too); instead I felt numb and sullen. I was only a little girl, but we don't think of ourselves as little when we are, do we? We are always as old as we've ever been, and feel as wise and perceptive as anyone. Or was it the not crying that made me feel stolidly adult? 

When the white feeling gently suffused me, as if descending from the sky, it released me. Then I knew my Nana wasn't really gone, even if she wouldn't be with me in the same way she had been. I was assured of her eternal love, from that moment on. 

I told no-one.


  1. So glad you are writing your memoir. I read the top paragraph and want to share it with the world. I look forward to reading the rest when I am in a spot where I can settle in and enjoy it.

  2. I love this. I am also so happy that you are writing this. xxx

  3. The stories we carry...! Beautiful write Rosemary, and me too I'm looking forward to reading the rest. All the best.

  4. Yes.. I too felt as methara... and of course knew I would. Of course you realize that this memoir that you have undertaken is going to be carried on the whispers of all sorts of guides to the four corners and beyond. I am already mesmerized. Carry on....Hope you do not mind if I share my delight!!!

    1. Writers like to get read! Thank you for sharing.

  5. Love your reflections on the life-death continuum...

  6. Rosemary this is such a beautiful description of your experiences upon the death of beloveds. I remember when my Nana died, I was allowed to cry and did profusely. I was not allowed to go to the funeral (the adults thought it would be too distressing for such a tender hearted child). I was 11 at the time and watched her dying from a heart attack in our home. My parents were away, just us kids and her sister (my great Aunt) to tend to her as she cried out for my grandfather who had died when my mother was 5. Anyway, she kept saying "I'm coming Bill." She knew. I remember hearing her voice in the wind one evening not long after she passed away. My mother didn't believe me. I know what I heard, what I felt. It is good to remember these painful and tender moments, it is healing.

    1. Thank you so much, Laura, for sharing this deeply felt experience.


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